Commonwealth Games 2014: Usain Bolt dispels the doubts and finally reports for duty
He is only in the relay but remains the Games' biggest draw. So there was a huge sigh of relief when he arrived at last ready to race
Sunday 27 July 2014
Some of the big names may have fallen by the wayside and pulled out of Glasgow but the biggest of all has not: to give him his full name, welcome Dr Honourable Ambassador Usain Bolt.
Bolt announced his arrival in Glasgow yesterday by taking a picture of a bagpiper as he exited his flight from Gatwick with the words "you know where we at", and Commonwealth Games organisers must have breathed a collective sigh of relief to finally have him on Scottish terra firma.
The fastest man on the planet may only be playing a bit part on the track as part of the Jamaican 4x100m relay team but he is unquestionably still athletics' main attraction and, in this instance, the Commonwealth Games' biggest draw.
Until yesterday, there had been conjecture that Bolt, ineligible for Jamaica's 100m and 200m line-up after missing the trials with a foot injury, would also pull out of the relay, but in what has become his trademark bizarre pre-event press conference, with disparate questions on Gaza, Scottish independence and his beloved Manchester United, his most telling remark was about his commitment to competing.
"I am here to run," he said. "I don't see why else I would travel to Glasgow. I will definitely be running."
And for what it's worth he is following the situation in Gaza, was totally unaware of the impending independence vote and is still adamant he will get on United's books, even under the new manager in Louis van Gaal.
Much like his form and fitness in 2014, this was not quite vintage Bolt. Sure, he feigned disgust at not being introduced by his full title and posed for selfies with Australian journalists but he was a tad more muted than his usual gregarious self.
But the main thing is that the big show is in town, and with Mo Farah, Mark Cavendish and Yohan Blake among the star attractions to have pulled out through illness, injury and disinterest respectively, how Glasgow needs him.
Bolt defended the likes of his training partner Blake, who insisted he would play no part in the Games even before injuring his hamstring, and others for withdrawing. "I don't think anybody pulled out on purpose," he said. "It's about injuries. It happens in the Olympics and World Championships, things just go wrong at the last moment. It's unlucky but it's just one of those things. It's a sport. The Games will go on and they will be good, I am sure of that."
Bolt can fully expect attention to follow him in the six days that remain before the 4x100m relay final. Usually such is his schedule at a major championships that he sits out the relay heats to keep himself for the gold rush of the final.
But for all his confidence, not even he can open his season like that when there is a gold at stake in the final. "Yes, I will be running the heats," he said. "I think I need the runs really because this is the first run of the season. I need to get it going."
His season habitually begins at the start of June in Rome's Stadio Olimpico. This year, it will be almost two months later at Hampden Park. The cause of the delay has been an on-going foot injury that has led to the will-he-won't-he speculation about his Commonwealth Games appearance.
Any sense that he might suffer the ignominy of limping out with baton in hand was dispelled instantly. "For me, the injury has completely gone," he said. "Fitness wise, I have done a lot of training over this past month. I have been really pushing myself and I am in pretty good shape but I am not yet in running shape hence why I am running the heats, just to get a few runs in.
"I am taking my time, not pushing myself to then get injured again. I am focused on getting through the season and getting some races in."
As a result his expectations on the track are somewhat understated. Jamaica should comfortably win the 4x100m relay whoever is in their line-up – and Bolt has no idea who that might be – but there were not the usual predictions of times and medals.
Off the track, his expectations for his Scottish trip were "lots of rain and seeing lots of kilts", although the offer of a kilt from one Scottish journalist was coolly rebuffed with the line "red's not my colour".
Gold is the colour to which Bolt has become accustomed and a Commonwealth gold is the one thing missing from the medal cabinet in Kingston, Jamaica.
The cynics might say he is only competing at the behest of Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Media brand are major Games sponsors as well as big backers of Bolt. For the athlete himself, he protests it is the lure of something new that brings him to Scotland.
"I have always wanted to compete in the Commonwealth Games," he said. "The first one I strained my hamstring so I couldn't get to go to Australia, the second one was in India, it was October so it was a bad time for me because the World Championships was coming up.
"This time, I got injured earlier in the season. I didn't want to take anyone's spot – I got injured so didn't get to go to the trials – so I decided why not just come here to do the 4x100m."
It is surreal to think the 100m heats start today with the world's fastest man sitting with his feet up in the athletes' village. Apart from watching the Reggae Girls (Jamaica's netball team), he plans predominantly to stay in his apartment.
Glasgow will get to see him to compete for less than 20 fleeting seconds on the track, first in the heats and then in the final. But the city is just happy he is here at all.
9.02 Men's Marathon
9.30 Women's Marathon
2.30 Women's long jump T37/38 final
2.37 Men's 100m heats start
4.55 Women's 400m heats start
5.40 Men's 5,000m final
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